Help me choose my next boat

Submitted byBrad Grimm onWed, 03/25/2020 - 01:31

Glad to be back on this forum, it was instrumental to my success in 2000 - 2001 when I built two Pygmy Arctic Terns.  

Since then my wife and I have switched to a tandem fiberglass kayak for our week long trips.  We still love the Terns but the tandem is a better choice for us now.  The problem is our tandem is a 105 lb beast and the crossbars on top our campervan are 8.5 feet off the ground.  Even with a Hullivator (on order) it's bound to be a struggle.

My thought is to build another S&G since both Pygmy and Chesapeake Light Craft have models that weigh in at 68 lbs.  But I've also heard stories of those same boats that came out at over 90 lbs.  That wouldn't help much.

So I'm looking for advice in choosing a boat kit.  We need a capable tandem suitable for week long self support trips.  Cockpits must be far enough apart to not have to paddle in sync.  We love a center hatch, but would be OK with a third cockpit that we would bulkhead and use for gear with a cockpit cover on top.  We paddle in bear country so the hatches have to be large enough to fit a couple bear barrels.  21 feet is about the largest I can build in our garage.  And as lightweight as possible since we're both in our late 60's and have to get the boat on top our van.  I'm looking forward to hearing your suggestions.  Thanks in advance!     Brad


Wed, 03/25/2020 - 17:31


Weight seems to be the big problem with tandems. More than one couple I know have 'gone back to' single kayaks because the tandem was too heavy to handle. The Passat G3 is advertised at 90#, and most manufacturers 'low-ball' the published weights a bit.

Is budget a consideration? Perhaps a good, but lighter commercial tandem would be a solution? For example, the Stellar ST21 can be under 60# if you pay for the layup.

How much volume do you need for tripping?

Do you need a wider/more 'stable' tandem? Lots of couples use tandems because one paddler is less skilled or less confident about self-rescue. A wider boat will have more volume for 'luxury' camping items.

How close did you come to the 'ideal' (i.e. advertised) weight on the Arctic Terns that you built? 

I've never had much luck building light kayaks - they always seem to 'creep up' in weight as they near completion.

Weight - every bit of fibreglass takes 3 times as much epoxy as no fibreglass. A litre of epoxy weighs 1 kg = near 2 lb. Don't cover the hull with fibreglass, only use it on the seams. Be selective when buying plywood. Do you actually need that thickness? The bottom can do with something thicker on a double but the sides and deck don't.

My double did a circumnavigation of Vanua Levu, Fiji soon after being built back in the 1990s. Do put a carborundum filled epoxy on the keel. I hadn't and it was down to "just got home" thickness there. It did a lot of multiday trips after that. Otherwise I can lift my double solo and I'm amongst one of the oldest on this forum so they can be built light and tough..

Thanks for your thoughts, John.  We love the Passat G3, we've paddled that boat but the 15 or so lbs of weight savings isn't going to help much.  I'll look at the Stellar ST21 you mentioned.

For tripping we are accustomed to a fairly high volume boat.  Not that we couldn't trim our gear down a bit but we really try to avoid gear on the deck and between our legs.  You're right on, we do have the tandem because my spouse isn't as strong a paddler.  That's why we only use the singles on easy trips these days.

My Arctic Terns ended up 15 to 20% heavier than advertised.  I'm sure there are techniques to avoid that, I just don't know what they are.

I had never considered not covering the hull and deck with fiberglass.  Food for thought.  My first thought is wouldn't that seriously compromise the structural integrity, especially for a double?

Impressive that you can lift you double by yourself.  What model boat is it and what does it weigh?


Wed, 03/25/2020 - 21:20

I've built S&G boats with and without full glass coverage.

Glassing both sides of the seams is 'a must' in my opinion. If there are a lot of panels (and seams) then it's easier to fully glass and it looks better, too.

It's not easy to get an even coating of epoxy applied; using light glass is like a 'thickness gauge' and adds a lot of strength.

Plywood is quite strong, stronger than most folks realize. But it's not abrasion resistant. I think it was Vaclav at OneOcean and also Nick that did tests of epoxy additives which showed that nothing improves the situation much, though Mac50L's carborundum powder (source??) sounds amazing.

Unless you plan to buy a kit and then duplicate the panels in thinner plywood (and destroy the originals- required by the license terms), it's hard to see how you could reduce the weight a great deal from 'the specs'. Are any of the S&G boats you are considering available as plans only?

Certainly you can omit the fill coats from areas of the inside, but that makes them harder to keep clean, if there is glass weave showing. 


BTW, Mac doesn't state the weight of his boat- I think he's a lot stronger (lighter and tougher) than he lets on. Age doesn't mean that much!

"Unless you plan to buy a kit and then duplicate the panels in thinner plywood (and destroy the originals- required by the license terms), it's hard to see how you could reduce the weight a great deal from 'the specs'."

Really, I'd be very happy if I could make a kit boat  (Pygmy or CLC triple, or other suggestions) come out at or near the specified weight.  If that requires not glassing some of the interior or other tricks to keep it light, I'd be OK with that.  I'd prefer a kit rather than work from plans and I'm not really interested in trying to duplicate the kit panels in a thinner plywood.   We like the triple because we like the center storage area, but I would want to partition that off with bulkheads.

BTW, I looked at the Stellar Tandem 21'.  What a nice boat!  We could afford it, but it doesn't have the volume for week long trips that we would need.  Any other choices you know of in the 60 - 70 lb range?

Here are the kayaks and notes about them. The tortured ply version, Mist, isn't there. Both Mist and the Mac50L are 18 kg. The Mac50L when first thrown in the water was 13 kg without rudder, pedals, deck gear  or hatch covers.

Deck cargo on the double (bottom picture)? I can't remember why there was so much as in the picture, maybe because of my crew? Around Fiji, different crew, amidships on deck there'd be a few gallons of water. My gear would be all aft plus other items while my crew filled amidships and the fore hold.

A few Mac50s

Tough? Strong? While I was building the double it was upstairs in a factory. I'd often carry it down stairs solo and work on it outside, sanding and things like that. Yes, I was younger then.


Thu, 03/26/2020 - 13:23

Another approach could be to work on the loading/unloading and moving problem with your existing double.

Really, handling an 80# boat won't be a great deal easier than your 100# existing boat.

I notice that most of the pics of the kit boats have just an inflatable foam pad for a seat (and not much safety deck rigging)..probably to keep the weight number down.

You may find that the Hullivator will work for you.

Or, you could 'engineer' a loader to pull your double on to the roof of your vehicle.

Not that I would ever be opposed to another boat project...for anybody!

You'd want to check the kit details to make sure bear barrels would fit into the boat (and through the back hatch, though the hatch opening could be made bigger).




Thu, 03/26/2020 - 13:48

Certainly looking for good used boats is another avenue to explore. 

That Georgia $600 double (from a 2018 ad) might not be a good bet as it is a baidarka-style boat.

Probably not the high-capacity stable double you may want.

Brad Grimm

Thu, 03/26/2020 - 16:43

Thanks everyone for the input.

Mac, your boats are most impressive.  As is a circumnavigation of Vanua Levu.  I wish I had a good sea kayak when I lived in Samoa.  Instead I had a Samoan paopao (outrigger canoe) that would flip in an instant if you weren't paying attention.

Jay, thanks for the tip on the used boat.  I will look into that one.

John, you're a wealth of information.  And you're right about reducing the weight may not make that much difference.  I'm anxious to try out the Hullivator.  But it's only rated for 80 lbs (or something like that).  And since our campervan is so high (8.5 feet to the rack) we still have to lift the boat to about chin level, then push it up with the Hullivator assist.  Or, as you suggest, engineer something else.  I'm picturing Hully Rollers on the very back crossbar and two lines from the bow down to two people on the ground forward of the van and on either side.  Working together it seems possible to pull the boat up onto the roof from the back while controlling side to side movement.  More food for thought.  Still, it would be easier with a 70 lb boat rather than 105 lb.

The Pygmy Osprey Triple build weight is listed at 62 lb.  Say it ends up at 70 with rigging, I'd be good with that.  Would Kevlar or other cloth be helpful in keeping the build weight down?  Other suggestions?

Brad - we were in Samoa in January, kayaking, a few day trips, and the main part of the trip bicycling round Savii. The humidity was a killer. Back here at home and out for a quick bike ride, 32C and no problem. A low of 29C in Samoa and yuck, 100% humidity. Is that rain? Yes and then it drops to 99% - no better.

The kayaking, paddles too long, not as bad as paddling in BC, Canada where they were 240 cm but still too long. In Samoa singles and doubles, New Zealand designs. OK for the job but rudder pedal adjustment typical poor American design. Four hard to get at adjustments instead of my one and right in front of the seat where you can do it sitting normally.


Fri, 03/27/2020 - 12:14

WatersDancing boats (from Alberta- land of prairies and mountains) are very similar to some Pygmy designs.


A friend built a WD boat and paddled it to AK from Victoria, and still uses it most weeks...and he likes it a lot.


Fri, 03/27/2020 - 12:17

To save weight in a wood core glass boat (plywood or strip), I'd look at thinner core, lighter glass and minimizing epoxy on the boat.

Kevlar on a wood core boat would increase the weight, I think. Most of the Kevlar I've come across was pretty thick and a bit of a sponge for resin.

It's also very miserable stuff to work with.

Brad Grimm

Fri, 03/27/2020 - 17:28

In reply to by JohnAbercrombie

John, thanks for your insights.  I'd heard Kevlar was a pain.

Mac, you are so right about Samoa.  The temperature hardly changes night to day, always low to mid 80's F.  But the humidity is always 90 to 100%.  I pretty much gave up biking there in favor of any water sports.  We loved it though and ended up staying 7 years.

 John, that sounds like a great trip. As you know, I paddled from the Alberta Rockies to Northern Manitoba, about 2200-kms all WD Lightning 17 was the perfect kayak for such a trip. I just finished reading a book written by a guy who rowed the entire length of the Mississippi...I have always wanted to do that trip...might be a nice post-retirement idea.

Robert N Pruden

Hi all,  I just wanted to let you know that I ended up ordering a Waters Dancing Trillium and am well into the build.  They were great to deal with, even going so far as to modify the design for us, removing the center cockpit and adding a center storage compartment and hatch instead.  It's a bit more complicated that the Pygmy Arctic Tern's I built years ago.  The Trillium has a multi-chine hull with 10 panels instead of the 4 on the Arctic Tern, plus it's 4 feet longer.  But at the moment I've got the time and just barely have the space, though the Subaru won't see the inside of the garage for quite awhile.


Thu, 05/28/2020 - 13:48


Once you have the image stored in your computer, just 'Add new comment' and click on the 'Image' button in the menu bar.

Browse to the image file and select it.


Hey, Brad, I stopped by Waters Dancing (Boatcraft) to chat with Rob (owner now) and asked if you got the kit. He impressed me when he indicated that he modified the design to suit your needs...the former owner would not have done that. I thought it was a pretty good idea to put a hatch in the middle. If you can do it, I would suggest using rare earth magnets to hold down your get a much cleaner final look. I did that for my Waters Dancing Lightning had the webbing hold downs for 17 years...I finally removed them and converted the hatches to magnets...the kayak looks much better and I am pleased with how well the magnets hold the hatches down.

The Trillium is a beautiful boat...Rob has one hanging on the wall in his shop I have drooled about for years. Sadly, I can't build one now, no space to build and my partner wants me to start working on a strip canoe. :) Please do post pictures.

Robert N(o webbing) Pruden